One out of every 10 children in the United States lives in Texas, and one in four of these children is likely to live in poverty. How many of those children go without health care because they are uninsured?
It’s a staggering concern and one we take to heart here at Texas Children’s. For me, regardless of my own political beliefs, when I hear these numbers, and I think about all the children and families who need our help, I can’t help but ask myself how we can do better.
More than half of the patients seen at Texas Children’s Hospital are covered by Medicaid, a program that celebrates its 50th anniversary this month. It was July 30, 1965, when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Social Security Amendments of 1965 and established the Medicare and Medicaid programs. From that moment, health care became more accessible to the most vulnerable of our U.S. population.
In the 50 years since then, Medicaid has benefitted millions of children and pregnant women – including hundreds of thousands of Texas Children’s patients. Medicaid-designated funds for research have helped us advance pediatric medicine for the benefit of all of our patients, not just those covered by Medicaid. In fact, it’s core to our mission here at Texas Children’s and the principles on which we were founded.
And while Medicaid remains a major part of health care in the U.S., our world today is quite different than the one in which it was created. Medicaid needs to be adapted to the practices of 21st century medicine, and the discourse surrounding it should address the long-term viability and reforms necessary to preserve a program that serves the most vulnerable of our community: impoverished pregnant women and children.
The simple truth is our federal and state governments save money by investing in health care for our children. When kids grow up with regular health exams, immunizations and care for childhood illnesses, they are more likely to become adults who are healthy and productive taxpayers.
Reform is slow but on the horizon, in the form of policies at the state and national levels, as well as homegrown efforts like many Texas Children’s has already implemented, to make health care more accessible for our own underserved population here in Houston and the surrounding areas.
Here, we are constantly working to advance health care access for our Medicaid patients. Through the creation of community resources such as The Center for Children and Women in Greenspoint and Southwest Houston, we are ensuring care is readily accessible in the community where our patients need it most.
This year, we added our sixth Texas Children’s Pediatrics Community Cares practice to provide access to pediatric primary care in some of Houston’s most underserved communities. When we have these families in our care, we connect them to vital health and social services and help them enroll in Medicaid through our health plan if they are uninsured. Without this program, many of these families would seek care from emergency rooms or possibly go without treatment due to low family incomes and/or lack of health insurance.
We advocate for Medicaid support and continued reform because we know it’s the right thing to do for our patients. This is because we know who our patients are. They are hardworking, and they want the best for their children and their families. And they are like many people who rely on Medicaid at some point. Almost 80 percent of children who were enrolled in Medicaid in 2013 lived with at least one parent who worked. That same year, 65 percent of adults on Medicaid were also part of a working family.
Many of these families don’t earn enough to afford private coverage and are desperate for a way to provide the right health care for their children. For many of our patient families, Medicaid covers those who would otherwise face financial ruin due to a catastrophic medical diagnosis or unexpected event. Medicaid is a safety net for everyone because we are all one medical crisis or catastrophic event away from financial ruin. It is a stepping stone for people when the unexpected occurs.
You and I know these families, and we know their stories. It’s our duty to remind others how essential Medicaid is for our community and for those families who truly need it.
This session, lawmakers failed to invest in Medicaid, a program that promotes economic stability for our state. Leaders need to have a longer-term vision than just two years. I am hopeful that during the interim, lawmakers will engage with various stakeholders – those providing care and those who consider its policies – to craft a 21st century Medicaid program that aligns Texas values with the actual needs of Texans.
Our government relations team acts as the advocate for children and women in Austin and Washington D.C. They work to educate legislators about why Medicaid matters and why it’s so essential to patients like ours. You can join their efforts by contacting your representatives and encouraging your friends and family to do the same.
As we acknowledge the 50th anniversary for this crucial program, I encourage you to advocate for health care that is available to all who need it, not just those who can afford it.